Richmond Times-Dispatch

Morocco, Israel will normalize ties; U. S. tilt on disputed area part of deal

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Morocco and Israel agreed Thursday to establish diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by the United States, making the North African nation the fourth Arab-majority country in recent months to say it would normalize ties.

Like agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, the Moroccan agreement bypasses the Palestinia­ns, who want a comprehens­ive peace deal with Israel on terms Israel has rejected.

Palestinia­n leaders have branded Arab states as traitors for making individual agreements, although the UAE had conditione­d its deal on Israel shelving potential plans to annex parts of the West Bank that Palestinia­ns claim for a future state.

President Donald Trump said in tweets announcing the deal that the United States would also recognize Moroccan sovereignt­y over the long-contested region of Western Sahara.

The deal depended on that U.S. policy shift, as the timing of the two announceme­nts made clear. For decades, the United States has maintained official neutrality in the dispute between Morocco and Algerian-backed separatist­s.

Winning U.S. recognitio­n of Moroccan sovereignt­y over the region has been a chief policy goal for Morocco, which is among the most populous Arab states and a key prize among countries the Trump administra­tion has courted in its effort to help Israel draw separate diplomatic and economic agreements with its Arab neighbors.

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time but something that seemed inevitable at this point and something that we think advances the region and helps bring more clarity to where things are going,” White House Middle East negotiator Jared Kushner told reporters about the Western Sahara shift.

Trump spoke by phone Thursday with Moroccan King Mohammed VI to secure the agreement, under which Morocco and Israel will establish full diplomatic ties and official contacts, as well as direct flights between the countries.

Trump affirmed the strength of U.S.Moroccan ties, which date to 1777, according to a summary of the conversati­on released by the White House.

A communique from the royal cabinet on the agreement said official contacts and diplomatic relations with Israel would come as soon as possible. The agreement announced in Washington contained no deadline for the opening of embassies, but Kushner said it would happen soon.

The kingdom said it plans economic and technologi­cal cooperatio­n and would work to reopen liaison offices in the two countries that operated for several years until being closed in 2002.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump and Mohammed for what Netanyahu called a “historic peace.”

“The people of Morocco and the Jewish people have had a warm relationsh­ip in the modern period. Everybody knows the tremendous friendship shown by the kings of Morocco and the people of Morocco to the Jewish community there,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office.

Morocco has an ancient Jewish community, and Mohammed’s grandfathe­r is credited with saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

“This will be a very warm peace. Peace has never — the light of peace on this Hanukkah day has never — shone brighter than today in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli and Moroccan ambassador­s to the United Nations spoke by phone on Thursday, the Israeli U.N. mission announced.

The deal leaves unresolved whether Trump can deliver a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia before he leaves office next month.

The U.S. affirmed the strength of U.S.-Moroccan ties, which date to 1777, according to a summary of the conversati­on released by the White House.

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